"QUITE SIMPLY, THE BEST HORROR-THEMED BLOG ON THE NET." -- Joe Maddrey, Nightmares in Red White & Blue

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Karen Black 1939-2013

"There aren't any more movie stars, which is terrific with me, it's very healthy. A lot of love now occurs in the business, people helping each other to do good work, getting high on each other's success. Isn't that great?"

She rose to prominence as part of a new wave of "actor's actors" changing Hollywood in the late 1960s and 1970s, but would later redefine herself as what is often referred to as a "scream queen". Yet that simple term unfairly reduces the contributions she made, both to mainstream film and the horror genre, over the course of her 45-year career. Karen Black was a one of a kind, and has inspired a devoted following which was saddened to learn that she had lost her three-year battle with ampullary cancer last Thursday at the age of 74.

Born Karen Blanche Ziegler in Park Ridge, Illinois, she took her stage name from first husband Charles Black, whom she married at the tender age of 16. The marriage would last only seven years, but she would keep the name for the rest of her career. And she was advanced for her age in more ways than this, as at the time of her marriage she was already a student at Northwestern University. However, she was bitten by the acting bug early, and dropped out of college to head to New York and Lee Strasberg's world famous acting studio at age 17.

She started appearing in a number of off-Broadway roles in her late teens and early twenties, and even had her first bit part on screen in 1959 in the exploitation flick The Prime Time, at the age of 20. By 1965, she had debuted on Broadway to acclaim in the short-lived critical darling The Playroom. The following year, she got her first major screen role in the early Francis Ford Coppola film, You're a Big Boy Now.

By the latter part of the 1960s, Black had begun to establish herself amongst a new generation of young and hungry actors, born of the Stanislavsky method and eager to turn Hollywood on its ear--actors like Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and others. It would in fact be her 1969 appearance alongside Hopper, Nicholson and Peter Fonda in the groundbreaking biker opus Easy Rider that would truly introduce her to the world as a major star.

Black turned her heads with her self-named role, and followed it up the next year with another turn co-starring with Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. This time, she earned an Oscar nomination, and the first of two Golden Globe awards she would receive in her career. Karen Black had become one of the most buzzworthy actresses of the new decade--a decade in which she would participate in changing the face of American film.

At the apex of her career in the 1970s, Karen Black got to star in Coppola's adaptation of The Great Gatsby alongside Robert Redford; The Day of the Locust with Donald Sutherland and Burgess Meredith; and Airport 1975, in which she became the infamous "stewardess flying the plane" that would inspire the title and theme of Ron Hogan's excellent book on '70s cinema.

She would also begin to dabble in the horror genre, beginning with the horror-tinged thriller The Pyx in 1973, but starting in earnest in late 1974, when she took a major role in the TV movie Trilogy of Terror--mainly because her second husband, Robert Burton, had landed a part. The two would be divorced by the time the movie aired, but Black's sojourn into the realm of the dark and bizarre had begun. She followed it up in 1976 with starring roles in Dan Curtis' Burnt Offerings with Bette Davis, and in Family Plot, the final film of Alfred Hitchcock.

Karen Black's career would never again reach the heights it did during the 1970s. And although she once again turned heads in 1982 with an appearance in Robert Altman's Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, by this point she had embarked on a different stage of her career--one that would wind up defining her for the next quarter century. Karen Black had become a so-called "scream queen"--yet her acting chops and legit training helped her stand out from the pack of '80s horror starlets. In truth, she was a cut above.

Her resume during the 1980s would include such movies as Tobe Hooper's Invaders from Mars remake and It's Alive III: Island of the Alive. By the 1990s, she had settled firmly into B-horror shlock territory--her films of that era include the likes of Children of the Corn: The Gathering and other obscure direct-to-video fare. It was a far cry from starring roles in Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Altman pictures, but she continued to work steadily and had found a niche for herself which endeared her to legions of fans like never before.

Black's most memorable role of the new century, and perhaps the part for which she is most known to younger horror fans, would come in 2003 thanks to horror aficionado Rob Zombie. A fan of the genre--particularly the '70s and '80s era of splatter and exploitation, Zombie had been a big fan of Black's work and decided to thrust her back into the horror mainstream along with other cult favorites in his debut picture, House of 1,000 Corpses. As the unforgettable Mother Firefly, Black was the best thing about the film, and it instantly reminded fans of just what a talent and a gift to the genre she truly was.

Nevertheless, House of 1,000 Corpses didn't quite lead to the full career resurgence fans of Black had been hoping for, and she continued to ply her trade in B cinema for the remainder of the decade, most notably in the 2011 underground horror comedy Some Guy Who Kills People.

However, by that point, Black had already been forced to curtail her career thanks to a diagnosis of ampullary cancer in 2010. Through surgery and treatment, she was able to beat it within months, but it returned aggressively last year, and on August 8, 2013, with fourth husband Stephen Eckelberry by her side, it claimed her life.

Although her career trajectory did not follow the same path as many of her compatriots from those exciting game-changing days of the late '60s and early '70s, in her own way Karen Black left a mark that will never be forgotten. She found a niche and a formula that worked, keeping her working and beloved by fans of horror and B-movies for decades.

All in all--a legacy most actors would kill for.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Random Ramblings from the Vault!

  • Random Ramblings is back this week, and I'd like to kick it off by shouting to the rooftops how excited I am about the impending release of the long-pined-for restored version of Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man. Director Hardy had long lamented the seemingly permanent loss of 14 minutes of the film's footage due to a ridiculous studio bungle. Now that it's finally been found 40 years later, I can't wait to see Hardy's true, original vision at last.
  • I've spent years educated my kids on the joys of horror, but till now have kept things relatively confined to the PG/PG-13 realm. I recently broke that edict with a screening of the brilliant '70s zombie chestnut Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (a.k.a. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue). I'm proud to report that Zombelina and Skeleton Jack (ages 11 and 9) are alive, well and untraumatized. Like Luke Skywalker, they've taken their first step into a larger world.
  • Is it just me, or has True Blood been improving this season? For me, the show has always seemed so erratic, going from interesting to unbearable at regular intervals. But I have to say, this season so far has captured my attention and seems to be getting back to more of what made the show so intriguing in the first place.
  • As you might have been able to tell by the recent vlog here in the Vault, and elsewhere in Jack's Movie Town, I'm seriously on a Pacific Rim high this summer. I've now seen the film three times, and it's successfully washed away the taste of the horrendous Man of Steel and the slightly disappointing Star Trek: Into Darkness. If you haven't seen it yet--SEE IT. Word of mouth is spreading, and it now looks like a sequel may actually happen.

  • Did you know that Weird Tales magazine is back in publication? Shame on you if you didn't. The classic old school horror pulp, which boasted such authors as H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard among its contributors, has been back for a little while now, and I strongly encourage you to support it. We need solid outlets for new horror short fiction, and I can think of no better home for it than the legendary Weird Tales. 
  • I always love putting together the Cyber Horror Awards, because it gives me a chance to catch up on the best horror films of the past year that I may have missed. This time, I'm taking some time to discover Lovely Molly, Sinister and Mother's Day...
  • For many years, I've admired the amazing Alamo Drafthouse from afar. A theater that combines good movies with good food and drink, and also has genuine knowledge of film history and respect for the moviegoing experience? Count me in. Color me ecstatic at this month's brand new opening of an Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, New York, a mere 20 miles or so from me. And among their first screenings will be Stanley Kubrick's The Shining! I'll be heading down there very soon, you can count on that...
  • For all you supporters of my Bedlam at the Bijou series, I just wanted to let you know that our run at that venue has ended after a glorious and very fun year. However, fear not--because I'm looking to take the Bedlam brand on the road and continue the coolness at a new location in Connecticut. Stay tuned for more updates on where and when you can expect to see vintage horror double-features in the mighty B-Sol manner.

  • Captain Cruella's Village Invasion is returning with an amazing FOURTH annual installment in the town of Saugerties, nestled in New York's idyllic Hudson Valley. It's the Northeast's premiere zombie crawl event, and this year looks to be bigger and better than ever. Check it out at the official Village Invasion website, or stay tuned to Cruella's Crypt for more news and information!
  • While I'm bragging and boasting, I'd like to take this moment to give a mention to my Twitter and Instagram presences. For Vault updates and more, plus a coveted glimpse into my ever-fascinating life, feel free to follow me @B_Sol on Twitter, or @B_Sol13 on Instagram. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Better Late Than Never: Announcing the Nominees for the 5th Annual CYBER HORROR AWARDS

It all started four years ago as a novel idea... how interesting would it be to give the horror blogosphere a platform from which to praise the best in horror movies each year? Other critic-based movie awards exist out there, so what about one for online horror journalists--who happen to be among the most opinionated, vocal critics of them all? So I came up with the Cyber Horror Awards, taking advantage of the connections I had made in the online horror world to create a system that could be used to recognize greatness in horror cinema each year.

Each year, I reach out to a select group of notables to help me select nominees in 13 different categories. Once that's done, the official ballot is emailed to scores of online horror critics (this year that number reached nearly 150), both blogger and non-blogger alike, asking them to select their choices. And then, at long last, the winners are declared over at the official home of the Cyber Horror Awards. Needless to say, this is all happening a few months later this year than I'd normally like, but hey, sometimes real life can be a bit of a nuisance.

Speaking of the official CHA website, by going there you can check out the official list of this year's nominees, highlighting some of the best and brightest the horror genre had to offer in 2012. It's quite an interesting field this time out... In previous years, a single movie usually dominated the nominees: 2008 was the year of Let the Right One In; in 2009 it was Trick 'r Treat; 2010 was dominated by Black Swan; and last year it was Attack the Block. This year, however, there are three films which are running neck-and-neck: The Woman in Black, with 10 nominations; The Cabin in the Woods, with 11 nominations; and Prometheus, with a whopping 12 out of 13 nominations (all that was missing was Best Supporting Actor... poor Idris Elba.) The Innkeepers also made a significant showing with 6 nominations.

But enough jibber-jabber. To give you a taste, our nominees for the Val Lewton Award for Best Horror Film of the Year are:

  • Prometheus
  • The Cabin in the Woods
  • The Woman in Black
  • The Innkeepers
  • Sinister
Head over to the Cyber Horror Awards website and check out the full list now! Ballots have been sent out, with a deadline of August 15. I expect to publish the results not long after that. And incidentally, if you're an online horror critic/blogger and you have NOT received a ballot from me, feel free to reach out to me, and we'll see what we can do to rectify that!

And now, I leave you with a handy guide to all the awards and their previous winners:

Val Lewton Award for Best Film
2011: Attack the Block
2010: Black Swan
2009: Trick 'r Treat
2008: Let the Right One In

David Cronenberg Award for Best Director
2011: Joe Cornish, Attack the Block
2010: Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
2009: Michael Dougherty, Trick 'r Treat
2008: Tomas Alfredson, Let the Right One In

Jamie Lee Curtis Award for Best Actress
2011: Jodie Whittaker, Attack the Block
2010: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
2009: Isabelle Fuhrman, Orphan
2008: Lina Leandersson, Let the Right One In

Vincent Price Award for Best Actor
2011: Rutger Hauer, Hobo with a Shotgun
2010: Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island 
2009: Woody Harrelson, Zombieland
2008: Kare Hedebrant, Let the Right One In

Linnea Quigley Award for Best Supporting Actress
2011: Angela Bettis, The Woman
2010: Delphine Chaneac, Splice
2009: Lorna Raver, Drag Me to Hell
2008: Lizzy Caplan, Cloverfield

Dwight Frye Award for Best Supporting Actor
2011: John Goodman, Red State
2010: Vincent Cassel, Black Swan
2009: Bill Murray, Zombieland
2008: Vinnie Jones, The Midnight Meat Train

Curt Siodmak Award for Best Screenplay
2011: Joe Cornish, Attack the Block
2010: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz & John McLaughlin, Black Swan
2009: Michael Dougherty, Trick 'r Treat
2008: John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In

Karl Freund Award for Best Cinematography
2011: Hallvard Braein, Troll Hunter
2010: Matthew Libatique, Black Swan
2009: Anthony Dod Mantle, Antichrist
2008: Hoyte Van Hoytema, Let the Right One In

Albert S. D'Agostino Award for Best Production Design
2011: Roger Ford, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
2010: Dante Ferretti, Shutter Island
2009: Steve Saklad, Drag Me to Hell
2008: David Hackl, Repo! The Genetic Opera

Bernard Herrmann Award for Best Score
2011: Tie: Joseph Bishara, Insidious / Steven Price, Attack the Block
2010: Clint Mansell, Black Swan
2009: Christopher Young, Drag Me to Hell
2008: Johan Soderqvist, Let the Right One In

Tom Savini Award for Best Makeup
2011: Sharon Toohey, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
2010: Rick Baker, The Wolfman
2009: Greg Nicotero, Drag Me to Hell
2008: Greg Nicotero, Diary of the Dead / Mirrors

Ray Harryhausen Award for Best Visual Effects
2011: Troll Hunter
2010: Black Swan
2009: Coraline
2008: The Ruins

Molly Arbuthnot Award for Best Costume Design
2011: Ha Nguyen, Priest
2010: Milena Canonero, The Wolfman
2009: Magali Guidasci, Zombieland

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